Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Could Rick Porcello be the Tigers closer?

By Sean Gagnier

From Day One, the Tigers have said that Bruce Rondon was their first choice to be the closer this season. The rest of the baseball world wondered, why would they pick a rookie who is walk-happy? Well, Detroit appears to be having second thoughts.

In 3.2 innings of work Rondon has failed to get a 1-2-3 inning, allowed five hits, three runs, walked five and posted a 2.72 WHIP. None of which are what you like to see out of a closer, so it appears General Manager Dave Dombrowski will have to start looking elsewhere for his hammer out of the bullpen.

Detroit is supposedly looking outside the organization for a closer to trade for, likely trying to use Rick Porcello as trade bait to see what they can get for him. But finding a closer is hard, and trading for a proven one is even harder.

The logical place to look for a closer is Washington, where the signing of Rafael Soriano has left Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard on the outside looking in. Although the Nationals has a glut of closer-types, signs out of D.C. are that they aren't looking to part with them readily, if at all.

Perhaps the Red Sox' Andrew Bailey would appeal to the Tigers, but from all accounts the two clubs have yet to speak at any length in regard to the closer. That could change however, with Detroit looking to nab themselves a late-inning man quickly.

With the closer market being as thin as it is, Detroit could look within to fill the role. The obvious choices would be either Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel or Joaquin Benoit, but they each serve a valuable role in the bullpen and struggle with batters on the other side of the plate. Could the solution be the man Detroit has been trying to trade away?

What if Porcello was the closer? That would allow Drew Smyly the fifth spot in the rotation. And what features does one look for in a closer? They must be able to throw strikes and get ground balls that can easily be turned into outs. Porcello does both of those things.

As a ground ball, contact-pitcher Porcello is often at the mercy of his defense over the length of a typical start. But as a closer, Porcello could get a few grounders and get off the mound quickly. In a typical Porcello start, he starts strong and starts to struggle as the game goes on. So using that, the shorter his outings the better his performance.

Porcello still gets his ground balls and makes contact with the bat, which is how you know he's on his game, but as long as the defense behind him can turn three grounders into outs he could be a great closer.

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